Chicago so excited about bald eagle nest it cancels nearby shooting range plans

IL eagle flies on blue skyChicago cops decided this week not to build a big outdoor shooting range on a scrap of post-industrial wasteland on the South Side because it has a bald eagle nest–the first in the city in 130 years. But the environmetal group that fought the range on the Calumet River still isn’t sure if the public will get to enjoy the site or if the Chicago police could move in if the nest is unsuccessful.

The Southeast Environmental Task Force has been fighting the shooting range since it was announced in 2010 because it would further mess up an area that is supposed to be part of President Obama’s Great Outdoors initiative and the Calumet Open Space Reserve. But nobody cared when they were talking about a blue heron roost, the glory of the Hegewisch Marsh, the breeding ground for Yellow-headed blackbirds (which are endangered in IL) or the fragmentation of open spaces.

“The bald eagle basically saved the situation,” says Peggy Salazar of the  SETF. “All of our arguments prior to that got us nowhere. The bald eagle was very serendipitous.”

The Chicago Police Department decided they’d continue using a range in Aurora rather than contend with getting a permit to disrupt a bald eagle nest. Bald eagles aren’t officially endangered anymore. In fact, they’re a huge environmental success story and animal tourists can see them at eagle watching festivals around the country. But the Fish and Wildlife Service does need to issue a permit for bald eagles specifically and for migratory birds in general.

Really, even though the nest makes it tricky, I think the cops would have gotten it. But I also think Chicago has a soft spot for having a pair of nesting bald eagles within the city. Can you imagine the field trip and web cam possibilities?

Chicago and the bald eagles almost missed their chance to get together. The protests delayed building the site. Since the site is currently a fenced off old wastewater treatment plant, nobody would have known about the bald eagles. But SETF arranged a tour of the area with a local reporter and an Audubon birding expert, Carolyn Marsh. She spotted the hulking nest, which is about as big as a smartcar, and knew what it was. Game over for the shooting range.

Right now you can’t get in to see the nest. But SETF may offer a birding tour come May. And you can try visiting the nearby Hegewisch Marsh or Beaubien Preserve’s Flatfoot Lake, the Thomas O’Brien Lock and try to see them fly. Birders have seen bald eagles hanging around this part of the Calumet River for years, shows. Salazar says that another pair may be trying to nest just on the Indiana side of Wolf Lake, seen Whiting’s Forsythe Park. (You can try the William W. Powers state rec area if you don’t want to cross over to the Hoosier side; birders have seen them there, too.

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